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Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Last week I was in Auckland for a couple of days to go to the MINA (Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa) 2013 Symposium at the Auckland University of Technology. Having just recently arrived in New Zealand the symposium seemed like a great opportunity to meet some researchers and artists working in and around pervasive/locative media, and to see what kinds of mobile media research and praxis are going on in New Zealand.

The conference kicked off with a fascinating keynote from Larissa Hjorth from RMIT in Melbourne. Hjorth looked at practices surrounding current cultural usages of mobile imaging technologies from an ethnographic perspective, and charaterised this as second generation research in camera phone studies. Whereas the first wave focussed on mobile imaging through the perspectives of networked visuality, sharing/storing/saving, and vernacular creativity, she characterises second generation camera phone studies as focussing on the notions of emplacement through movement, the prominence of geo-temporal tagging and spatial connectivity, intimate co-presence and re-conceptualising casual play as ambient play.

My other highlights on the first day were a fantastic session on activism and mobile video practices which features papers from Lorenzo Dalvit and Ben Lenzner. Dalvit explored the use of user uploaded mobile phone videos to a tabloid online newspaper The Daily Sun, which provides a public forum for citizens to publish and attract widespread attention to instances of police brutality within South Africa. In particular Dalvit focussed on a case where police dragged a Mozambican taxi driver to his death through the streets, and mobile footage posted to the Daily Sun was used to contradict the official police account that the taxi driver was armed, and was thus pivotal in bringing the policeman in question to face trial for their actions. Dalvit also highlighted the utility of audiovisual media in cultural contexts where literacy cannot be assumed as universal, and the ways that the Daily Sun provided a forum of public discussion surrounding the commonplace acts of police brutality which are primarily aimed at impoverished black youths in SA.

This was followed by a look at some of Lenzner’s PhD research which compares the usage of mobile video streaming techniques by US activist such as Tim Poole and the Indian community-activist group India Unheard. Similarly to Dalvit’s South African case study, Cole’s footage of Occupy Wall Street was used in court to quash bogus charges fabricated by police against an Occupy protester, again highlighting the ways that citizen journalism and in particular video evidence can provide a powerful tool in providing counter-narratives to official accounts which are often pure fabrications. Whereas Cole was able to stream video live on to UStream, community video activists working for India Unheard have to go somewhere to compress and upload material due to the difference in bandwidth between New York and Mumbai. This forced pause means that they produce activist video which is closer to traditional forms of video activism, providing edited stories rather than just a live stream of events. Both these papers were fantastic examples of how the increasing access to media production tools provides ways for previously unheard voices to be heard, and within a legal context, to provide very strong evidence to contradict official statements from powerful institutions linked to the state.

Also on the Thursday were really interesting papers from Craig Hight and Trudy Lane. Hight’s paper focussed on the implications of emerging software digital video, and in particular various ways that numerous forms of consumer/prosumer software are automating increasing amounts of the editing process. The paper outlined a number of fairly new tools, such as Magisto, which claims to ‘automatically turns your everyday videos into beautifully edited movies, perfect for sharing. It’s free, quick, and easy as pie!’ Within the software you select which clips you wish to use, a song to act as the soundtrack and a title, and Magisto assembles your video for you. While Hight was quite critical of the extremely formulaic videos this process produces, it’s interesting to think about what this does in turns of algorithmic agency and the unique ability of software to make the types of decisions normatively only associated with human (what Adrian Mackenzie has described as secondary agency).

Lane by contrast is an artist whose recent project the A Walk Through Deep Time  was the subject of her paper. While the deep time here is not the same as Sigfried Zielinski’s work into mediation and deep time, it does present an exploration of a non-anthropocentric geological temporality, intially realised through a walk along a 457m fence to represent 4.57 billion years of evolution. The project uses an open-source locative platform called roundware which provides locative audio with the ability for users to upload content themselves whilst in situ, allowing the soundscape to become an evolving and dynamic entity. The ecological praxis at the heart of Lane’s work was something that really resonated with my interests, and it was great to see that there are really interesting locative art/ecology projects going on here.

The second day of the symposium opened with a keynote from Helen Keegan from the University of Salford. Keegan’s presentation centred on a unit she had run as an alternate reality game entitled Who is Rufi Franzen. The project was a way of getting students to engage in a curious and critical way with the course, rather than the traditional ways of learning we encounter within lectures and seminars. The project saw the students working together across numerous social media platforms to try and piece together the clues as to whom Rufi was, how he had been able to contact them, and what he wanted. The project climaxed with the students having been led to the triangle in Manchester, where they were astonished to see their works projected on the BBC controlled big screen there. It looked like a great project, and a fantastic experience.

My highlight of the second day was a paper by Mark McGuire from the University of Otago who presented on the topic of Twitter, Instagram and Micro-Narratives (Mark’s presentation slides are online via a link on his blog and well worth a look). Taking cues from Henry Jenkin’s recent work into spreadable media, which emphasises the ways that contemporary networked media foregrounds the flow of ideas in easy to share formats, McGuire went on to explore the ways that micro-narratives create a shred collaborative experience whereby the frequent sharing of ideas and experiences, content creators become entangled within a web of feedback or creative ecologies which productively drives the artistic work. Looking at Brian Eno’s notion of an ecology of talent and applying interdisciplinary notions of connectionist thinking and ecological thought and metaphors, McGuire made a convincing case as to why feedback rich networks provide a material infrastructure which cultivates communities who learn to act creatively together.

There was also a really interesting paper on the second day from Marsha Berry from RMIT, Melbourne, who built upon Hjorth’s notions of emplaced visuality to explore how creative practices and networked sociality are becoming increasingly entangled. Looking in detail at practices of creating retro-aesthticised images using numerous mobile tools including Instagram and retro camera filters, Berry explored these images as continuity with analogue imaging, as a form of paradox, as Derridean hauntology – as a nostalgia for a lost future, and finally as the impulse to create poetic imagery, highlighting that for teenagers today there is no nostalgia for 1970s imaging technologies and techniques which pre-date their birth.

Max Schleser and Daniel Wagner also presented interesting papers, looking at projects they had respectively been running which used mobile phone filmmaking. Schleser outlined the 24 Frames 24 Hours project for workshop videos, which featured a really nice UI designed by Tim Turnidge, and looked like a really nice tool for integrating video, metadata and maps. Schleser explored how mobile filmmaking is important to the emergence of new types of interactive documentary, touching on some of the conceptual material surrounding iDocs. Wagner presented the evolution of ELVSS (Entertainment Lab for the Very Small Screen), a collaborative project which has seen Wagner’s Unitec students working alongside teams from AUT, University of Salford, Bogota and Strasbourg to collectively craft video based mobile phone projects. The scale of the project is really quite inspiring in terms of thinking what it’s possible to create in terms of global networked interdisciplinary collaborations within higher education today.

Overall, I really enjoyed attending MINA 2013. The community seems friendly, relaxed and very welcoming, the standard of presentations, artworks and keynotes was really high and it’s really helped me in terms of feeling that there are academic networks within and around New Zealand who’re involved in really interesting work. Roll on MINA 2014.

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I’ve just had an article published as part of the spring/summer edition of Necsus, the European Journal of Media Studies. Necsus is an open access journal, so you can find the full text HERE.  My text is a look at how notions of scale and entanglement can productively add to media ecologies as an emergent way of exploring media systems. If looks at case studies of Phone Story and Open Source Ecology, and examines how in both cases a multiscalar approach which looks across content, software and hardware can be productively applied.

The journal also features an interview with Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell, the authors of Greening the Media, a book released last year which is one of the first full-length pieces to look at issues pertaining to the ecological costs of media technologies (both old and new), and a series on interesting essays which look at the intersection of media/film studies and ecology from diverse perspectives. Outside of the Green material, there are essays by Sean Cubitt (who was my PhD external examiner a few months back) and Jonathan Beller which are well worth a read.

 

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This week I start doing some work as a researcher for the Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University of the West of England, looking at a range of notions surrounding postdigitality.

The working hypothesis I’ve been given to function as a jumping off point is that ‘the digital’ in ‘digital cultures’ is on the verge of becoming a redundant term since all significant global cultures are all already digital.’ If this is the case how should the research centre strategically reconfigure its interests to maintain relevance within this postdigital moment.

My main experience with notions around postdigitality thus far comes from documenting the Postdigital Encounters Journal of Media Practice Symposium in 2011, which featured a range of interestingly contradictory takes on the postdigital:

 

 

I’m looking forwards to engaging with the DCRC staff around this issue, and spending some time thinking about the underlying value of a discourse which is currently fragmented and largely dominated by some fairly insubstantial rhetoric on blogs and newspaper articles, but which appears to touch on some far more interesting material around the rematerialisation of technologies, the Internet of things, pervasive media, and smart cities and connected communities.

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I’ve basically been failing to blog recently because the combination of PhD work, teaching and making stuff has left me with pretty much no spare time. Hopefully in the new year things will be a little calmer and I’ll have more time to spend here…

The Watershed’s D-shed website has got videos of the McLuhan’s Message seminars online, which includes the talk I gave on Walled Gardens and Digital Enclosure back in October.

It was an enjoyable (and slightly intimidating) panel to be on, but i think it went okay. The day as a whole was really interesting, with some excellent speakers and discussion of various areas surrounding contemporary media technologies.

 

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There’s a lot of really interesting discussion going on at the moment about the role that social media and online/offline networks have played and are continuing to play in the revolutions which have swept across Tunisia and Egypt and are emerging in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran.

Manuel Castells, the Catalan sociologist most famous for his writings on the Network Society, the Information Age and Communication Power is interviewed on the subject by Jordi Rovira for the Open University of Catalonia

The spontaneous social movements in Tunisia and Egypt have caught political analysts on the hop. As a sociologist and communication expert, were you surprised by the ability of the network society in these two countries to mobilise itself?

No, not really. In my book Communication Power, I devote a large part to explaining, on an empirical basis, how changes to communication technologies create new possibilities for the self-organisation and self-mobilisation of society, by-passing the barriers of censorship and repression imposed by the state. The issue clearly isn’t dependent on technology. Internet is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The roots of rebellion lie in exploitation, oppression and humiliation. However, the possibility of rebelling without being quashed immediately depends on the density and speed of mobilisation and that depends on the ability created by the technologies which I have classified as mass self-communication.

Could we consider these popular uprisings as a new turning point in the history and evolution of the internet or should we analyse them as a logical, albeit extremely important, consequence of the implementation of the Net in the world?

These popular insurrections in the Arab world constitute a turning point in the social and political history of humanity. And perhaps the most important of the internet-led and facilitated changes in all aspects of life, society, the economy and culture. And this is just the start. The movement is picking up speed, despite Internet being an old technology, and deployed for the first time in 1969.

Young Egyptians have played a key role in the popular uprisings, thanks to the use of new technology. However, according to the calculations of Issandr El Amrani, an independent political analyst in Cairo, only a quarter of Egyptians have internet access. Do you feel that this situation may – in his words, create a divide in these countries between those with access and those without access – one that is even greater than that in developed countries?

This figure is already out-of-date. Around 40% of Egyptians over 16 have internet access, if we consider not just private homes but also cybercafés and places of study, according to a recent 2010 study by the information company Ovum. And this figure rises to around 70% among young urban dwellers. Also, according to recent figures, 80% of the urban adult population has internet access via their mobile. And, in any case, in a country of some 80 million, even a quarter, which is double among young city dwellers, according to the oldest sources, this means millions of people on the streets. Not all of Egypt has demonstrated, but enough have to create a sense of unity and bring down the dictator. The story of the digital divide regarding access is old, untrue today and boring because it’s based on an ideological predisposition, among intellectuals, of minimising the importance of the internet. There are 2,000 million internet users on the planet and 4,800 million mobile subscribers. Poor people also have mobiles and, although fewer, they have forms of internet access. The real difference lies in broadband and connection quality, and not in access which is spreading faster than any other technology in history.

It would be naive to think that, given the events of recent weeks, those unlawfully holding the reins of power will just stand by with their arms crossed. Nicholas Thompson, social media expert, wrote in The New Yorker that “in Iran, the government was clearly successful to a certain point in using the internet to slow the passage of the green revolution. In Tunisia, the government hacked into the password of almost all the country’s Facebook users. If Ben Ali had not fallen so quickly, that information would have been very useful”. To what extent does power have the necessary tools to quash uprisings started on the Net?

It doesn’t. In Egypt, they even tried to disconnect the whole net but they couldn’t manage it. There were thousands of ways, including telephone land line connections to numbers abroad which automatically converted the messages into twitters and fax messages in Egypt. And the financial cost and functional effort involved in disconnecting the internet is so much that the connection had to be restored extremely quickly. A power cut on the net is like an electricity power cut today. Ben Ali didn’t go that quickly, there was a month of demonstrations and massacres. And in Iran, the internet couldn’t be shut down, with information about the demonstrations and videos of them on You Tube. The difference is that over there, politically speaking, the regime had the power to brutally repress things without causing divisions in the army. However, the seeds of rebellion are there and young Iranians (70% of the population) are now massively against the regime. It’s a question of time.

In Egypt, popular mobilisation via the digital media has created cyber heroes such as Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive. Leaders of uprisings historically led political and social movements from the grass roots, which would then play a key role in the political future, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit in France or Lech Walesa in Poland, just to give a couple of examples. However, we now have people with important technological knowledge, but often little political baggage. What role do you think these new leaders will play in the future of these countries?

The important thing to remember about wiki-revolutions (self-generating and self-organising ones), is that leadership doesn’t count, they are just symbols. However, these symbols don’t have any power, nobody obeys them and neither would they try. Perhaps later on, when the revolution has become institutionalised, some of these people may be co-opted to be a symbol for change, although I very much doubt that Ghonim wants to be a politician. Cohn-Bendit was just the same, a symbol, not a leader. He was a student and friend of mine in ’68 and was a true anarchist, rejecting leaders’ decisions and using his charisma (the first to be repressed) to help spontaneous mobilisation. Walesa was different, a union Vaticanist, which is why he became a politician so quickly. Cohn-Bendit took a lot longer and even so is still a green at heart who although now elderly, maintains values of respect towards the origins of social movements.

For some years now, Islamic fundamentalist movements have used new technology to promote their causes. The Muslim Brotherhood, which launched its own Wikipedia (Ikhwan Wiki) last year, reasserted that Islamists of all kinds “have exploited the internet to the full, despite the efforts of their adversaries.” This organisation, which could become the main beneficiary of a future election and which links together a great number of people committed to the total application of Islamic law, arouses suspicion among many trained young people who have led this uprising via new technology. How does this paradox make you feel?

Anyone who doesn’t use the internet now for their projects is backwards, with the exception of respectable eco-fundamentalists who write by the light of a candle (generally on a solar-powered computer). Consequently, both Islamists and even terrorists, also use it. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll win elections. To start with, they have been on the margins of recent social movements. And their election predictions in free elections do not get over 20% in any survey. Their organisation and tradition may lend them certain weight, but they do not represent the vast majority of an essentially young movement favouring freedom. They have been used by the regime to shock the world and the United States. It reminds me a little of when Franco used the fear of communism when everyone thought that the communists would secure a high return and then the PCE didn’t get over 10%, although in Catalonia the PSUC enjoyed significantly more support for a short time. Be that as it may, if the military does not keep its promises, if there are no free elections, if the demands of the fundamental working-class struggles unfolding in Egypt are not met, if there is violence against the population, then in that radicalised situation there may be Islamic armed resistance, but not by the middle-class Muslim Brotherhood.

The international media ? which the Egyptian regime tried to censor and even physically attacked ? together with Egyptian citizens who used the digital media, have enabled the shackles of information censorship to be shaken off. Months ago, Wikileaks achieved maximum return on its leaks in uniting the leading presses which published the vast amount of information that it held on its website. Is this alliance between conventional media and new technology the path we should be following in the future if we wish to successfully fight these huge challenges?

Large media corporations have no choice. They either ally with the internet and people’s journalism or they will become marginalised and financially unsustainable. However, that alliance plays a decisive role for social change. Without Al Jazeera there would have been no revolution in Tunisia.

In your article in La Vanguardia entitled Comunicación y revolución from 5 February, you ended by reminding readers that China had prohibited the word Egypt on the internet. Do you think the conditions are right for a popular movement similar to the one sweeping the Arab world to happen in the Asian giant?

No, because 72% of the Chinese support their government, because the urban middle class and mainly young people are extremely busy getting rich and the problems of the peasants and working class, China’s real social problems, are not on their radar. The government is taking excessive precautions, because censoring by system antagonises a lot of people who are not really against it. Democracy in China is not a problem for most people right now, unlike Tunisia and Egypt.

Events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt are yet another example of the inclusion into our daily lives of new forms of communication, such as SMS, blogs, podcasts, RSS, wikis, Twitter and Facebook, which have led to what you term “mass self-communication”, the upshot of developing the web. Can this new type of globalised and atomised communication, fed by the contributions of millions of users, change our way of understanding interpersonal communication or is it just another powerful tool available to us?

It has already changed it. Nobody who is on social networks everyday (and this is true for some 700 million of the 1,200 million social network users) is still the same person. It’s an online/offline interaction, not an esoteric virtual world. How it has changed, how this new type of communication changes it each day is a question to be answered through academic research, not by sitting around gossiping. And that’s where we are now and that’s why we have conducted the Project Internet Catalonia at the UOC.

In December, the German Ministry of the Interior announced the creation of a cybernetic war defence centre to repel spying attacks, while in Tallin (Estonia), in an ultra secret NATO laboratory, leading IT specialists are working to prevent the evolution of conflicts in a world increasingly dependent on the internet. Bearing this in mind and having seen what is happening in the Arab world at the moment, could it be said that cyber attacks will be the war of the future?

They are in fact the war of the present. The United States considers cyber war a priority and has allocated it a budget ten times larger than that of all other countries put together. And in Spain, the armed forces are preparing themselves quickly for the same thing. The internet is the space of power and happiness, of peace and war. It’s the social space of our world, a hybrid space built on the interface between direct experience and experience mediated by communication and, above all, by internet communication.

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Annie Leonard, the creator of the story of stuff has a new short animation out called the story of electronics. It’s well worth watching for a brief overview of some of the ethical imperatives surrounding the material impacts of the electronic equipment whose materiality is often erased by the discourse of virtuality.

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While being ill over the last week or so, I’ve spent some time playing the beta version of Fate of the World, a forthcoming PC game based around climate change which has generated quite a lot of interest in the mainstream media ( see here and here)

The game essentially puts you in command of a global organisation whose mission is to prevent catastrophic climate change (defined in the beta mission as 3 degrees of warmth), maintain a human development index above 0.5 and keep people happy enough to stop more than a certain number of geographical regions from kicking you out by the year 2020.

To achieve these goals you have a variety of tools at your disposal; projects which include boosting renewable energy, deploying CCS technology and subsidising electric cars, environmental and social adaptation/mitigation measures such as drought prevention measures, healthcare programmes and advancing regional water infrastructure, policy measures such as banning oil from tar sands or deploying algae based biofuels, and political measures such as deploying peacekeepers to troubles regions and black ops (including covert steralisation programmes?!).

From a game studies perspective the game is interesting as it provides users with a complex simulation whereby numerous interdependent factors are required to be dynamically balanced in a way that goes far beyond the usual kill or be killed binary prevalent inb most computer games. While there are of course alternatives, particularly in the realm of sandbox simulation games from SimEarth to Civilisation 5, Fate of the World is interesting insofar as it uses data taken from climate models to simulate not a fictional alternative world, but possible futures of this planet, presuming that the current data from climate models are broadly accurate. As such by experimenting with different variables users can glean a different kind of insight pertaining to the challenges posed by Anthropogenic Climate Change to engaging with traditional forms of media, such as watching a documentary or reading the scientific literature. By being able to manipulate how regions react through play, users get a different kind of experience, one driven by feedback, configuration and systemic thinking rather than narrative, affect or rhetoric. While such models will always be highly reductive simplifications of real world complexity, they could provide a useful way of approaching some of the complex social and environmental issues currently facing us, and indeed this kind of argument has been powerfully advanced by game studies scholars such as Stuart Moulthrop, who have advanced the argument that when dealing with complexity, configurational thinking is likely to present users with a better understanding of the area than linear narrative based approaches.

One criticism I have of the game in its current state is that the processes of feedback which reveal how a user’s interventions are effecting the relevant systems are often relatively obscured by their placement two menus deep, and I suspect that many players will struggle to find the data which actually spells out what the the consequences of their actions have been, and without this crucial information actions can appear opaque and indeed this criticism has been made on gaming forums discussing the beta. Hopefully this will something that is addressed before the game is released, as if players don’t understand what effects their decisions have entailed, then the game isn’t achieving its goals.

One aspect of the game which I found highly intriguing is the disparity between the aims and activities the game sets for users and the claims and actions of really existing nation states and supranational institutions. The beta mission in the game sets success as avoiding a rise of 3 or more degrees over pre-industrial temperatures by 2120, which is  below the midpoint of the IPCC projections of 1.5-6 degrees of warming this century (dependent on a range of factors, but primarily human measures), but which is considerably higher than the figure of a 2 degree rise which nation states couldn’t agree upon at the COP15 conference at Copenhagen last year. The reason states couldn’t agree upon that figure wasn’t the complete lack of concrete measures designed to practically bring about that change, but because a large number of nations, primarily the 131 countries represented by the G77 group, declared that a 2 degree temperature rise was too high. Earlier this year those nations convened in Bolivia at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, where they drafted a people’s agreement which stated

If global warming increases by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a situation that the “Copenhagen Accord” could lead to, there is a 50% probability that the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible. Between 20% and 30% of species would be in danger of disappearing. Large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen. Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish in the world, causing catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants from vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people. The corporations and governments of the so-called “developed” countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system…

Our vision is based on the principle of historical common but differentiated responsibilities, to demand the developed countries to commit with quantifiable goals of emission reduction that will allow to return the concentrations of greenhouse gases to 300 ppm, therefore the increase in the average world temperature to a maximum of one degree Celsius.

With atmospheric CO2 concentrations currently at 387ppm, and even the most ambitious campaigners in the developed world calling for a reduction to 350ppm, the aims set out at the World People’s Conference appear laudable, but completely unrealistic. Indeed, the goal loosely set out at COP15 of reducing warming to no more than 2 degrees, but with no mechanisms to try to achieve this have been widely criticised by groups such as the International Institute for Environment and Development;

The Accord is weak. It is not binding and has no targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (countries that signed it have until 31 January to list their voluntary actions in its appendix). The low level of ambition will make preventing dangerous climate change increasingly difficult. What countries have so far proposed will commit us to a 3 to 3.5-degree temperature increase, and that is just the global average.

In some ways this may be the most useful role the game plays; highlighting the distance between the rhetoric of political and business leaders who are currently seeking to greenwash the issue, and present their inaction beyond rhetoric as somehow being constitutive of a viable solution to the problems posed by ACC. Despite taking concerted action throughout the game it is hard to maintain warming of under 3 degrees without society collapsing due to a lack of mitigation and adaptation measures, widespread war and civil unrest or widespread poverty and famine in the face of increasingly severe climate related disasters as the next 110 years unfold. In some ways this isn’t that much fun; being told that your actions are resulting in millions starving and armed conflict doesn’t spread warmth and joy, but it does give some indication of how hard things are likely to get as time passes.

One thing that becomes abundantly clear from the game is that the sooner action is taken to dramatically curb CO2 emissions (particularly in wealthy nations where emissions per capita are far higher), the less severe the consequences will be further down the line. This is a lesson we would do well to heed.

World People’s Conference on Climate Change

and the Rights of Mother Earth

April 22nd, Cochabamba, Bolivia

PEOPLES AGREEMENT

Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.

If global warming increases by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a situation that the “Copenhagen Accord” could lead to, there is a 50% probability that the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible. Between 20% and 30% of species would be in danger of disappearing. Large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen. Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish in the world, causing catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants from vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people. The corporations and governments of the so-called “developed” countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.

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So the other day I wrote about why I don’t think the 10:10 campaign in general works, and why Richard Curtis’s promotional film for it was destined to be a spectacular own goal which offended people and put them off environmentalism.

And today the Guardian has a piece describing what’s happened since…

The charities that backed a Richard Curtis film for the 10:10 environmental campaign said today that they were “absolutely appalled” when they saw the director’s four-minute short, which was withdrawn from circulation amid a storm of protest.

The charity ActionAid, which co-ordinates the 10:10 schools programme, today welcomed the move. “Our job is to encourage proactive decisions at class level to reduce carbon emissions. We did it because evidence shows children are deeply concerned about climate change and because we see the impacts of it in the developing world where a lot of our work is. So we think the 10:10 campaign is very important, but the moment this film was seen it was clear it was inappropriate.

The questions we ought to be asking now are how did the 10:10 team ever think that a promotional film featuring authority figures such as a teacher and an office manager blowing up children and workers who dont sign up to their campaign was a good idea and how much money and carbon were wasted by their celebrity packed own goal?

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IPCC Errors

There’s a really good piece over on the Nature website about the recommendations made by an independent assessment of the way in which the IPCC currently functions. (hat tip Realclimate)

It’s worth reading because a lot of the coverage of the report has been over the top sensationalist nonsense about how the IPCC needs drastic reform as a result of serious errors. When these mainstream and sceptic pieces say errors, they all point to one example – the erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. One error, which was not in working group 1 (which covers the science of ACC) but appeared in WG2 (impacts adaptation and vulnerability) does not amount to a series of errors.

While right-wing media outlets and sceptic blogs spent a lot of time propagating the idea that there have been other, similar errors with the IPCC 2007 report, such as the Amazongate saga, whose main claims the Times has now retracted (the Times version is now however behind the Murdoch pay wall), the truth is that the science behind the IPCC 2007 report has stood up pretty well to the intense scrutiny which it has come under. On a related note, the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri was subjected to an entirely baseless series of accusations claiming that he was making a fortune from his links with carbon trading companies. According to climate sceptics and the right-wing press he was profiteering from his position of head of the IPCC. An independent report into his financial dealings have found all of those claims to be completely and utterly false. Still, as George Monbiot demonstrates, the accusations continue to be made by right-wing media outlets.

In fact the major story about the IPCC getting something wrong is actually about sea level rise. The IPCC admitted in their assessment that they weren’t taking all factors into account, as some were too uncertain, but the reality of empirically observed sea level rise is way above the IPCC’s uppermost prediction.  This prediction wasn’t made using grey literature, it was supposedly based on solid science, and yet it turns out to be totally wrong. So why has there not been widespread outcry in the media about this erroneous prediction? Why are there not legions of sceptical bloggers using this as evidence that the IPCC reports are equal parts guesswork and science, and that their conclusions should be viewed with a large dose of scepticism?

Because the message we get from the IPCC’s most serious error is that their estimates err on the side of conservatism and caution rather than the alarmism they are routinely accused of. Which is really not any great surprise given the consensus based framework they operate within. But if the IPCC’s predictions are too conservative, then the entire sceptic argument goes up in smoke, so very little is heard about the most serious error the IPCC have made. This is somewhat telling, as it suggests that those criticising the IPCC have little interest in improving its procedures and improving its predictions. More often than not it turns out to be the same few voices attempting to sell generalised doubt about climate change in order to prevent any kind of legaslative action being take to mitigate the predictions the science makes.

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This afternoon the Muir Russell led Independent Climate Change Email Review delivered it’s report. This is the last and most extensive of the investigations set up in the wake of the Climactic Research Unit email hack/leak which occurred last November (to conveniently become an international news scandal casting doubt on the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change just before world leaders held the COP15 conference to negotiate – or rather fail to negotiate – a successor to the Kyoto Protocol).

The other investigations, by the House of Commons select committee, the Oxburgh Report, and the  inquiry by Penn State University into the conduct of Michael Mann, one of the scientists prominently featured in the emails, had all previously  found that Phil Jones and the CRU had not falsified data, engaged in research misconduct, or corrupted the peer review process as had been claimed by climate sceptics and mainstream media outlets (ranging from the Daily Mail to the Guardian in terms of political affiliation).

So what has the Muir Russell investigation concluded? Well…

Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.
On the allegation of withholding temperature data, we find that CRU was not in a position to withhold access to such data or tamper with it. We demonstrated that any independent researcher can download station data directly
from primary sources and undertake their own temperature trend analysis.
On the allegation of biased station selection and analysis, we find no evidence of bias. Our work indicates that analysis of global land temperature trends is robust to a range of station selections and to the use of adjusted or unadjusted data. The level of agreement between independent analyses is such that it is highly unlikely that CRU could have acted improperly to reach a predetermined outcome. Such action would have required collusion with multiple scientists in various independent organisations which we consider highly improbable.
The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU‟s work in this area could be trusted and should be relied upon and we find no evidence to support that implication.

The central implication of the allegations here is that in carrying out their work, both in the choices they made of data and the way in which it was handled, CRU scientists intended to bias the scientific conclusions towards a specific result and to set aside inconvenient evidence. More specifically, it was implied in the allegations that this should reduce the confidence ascribed to the conclusions in Chapter 6 of the IPCC 4th Report, Working Group 1 (WG1). We do not find that the way that data derived from tree rings is described and presented in IPCC AR4 and shown in its Figure 6.10 is misleading. In particular, on the question of the composition of temperature reconstructions, we found no evidence of exclusion of other published temperature reconstructions that would show a very different picture. The general discussion of sources of uncertainty in the text is extensive, including reference to divergence. In this respect it represented a significant advance on the IPCC Third AssessmentReport (TAR).

On the allegation that the phenomenon of “divergence” may not have been properly taken into account when expressing the uncertainty associated with reconstructions, we are satisfied that it is not hidden and that the subject is openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRUpapers.

On the allegations in relation to withholding data, in particular concerning the small sample size of the tree ring data from the Yamal peninsula, CRU did not withhold the underlying raw data (having correctly directed the single request to the owners). But it is evidently true that access to the raw data was not simple until it was archived in 2009 and that this delay can rightly be criticized on general principles. In the interests of transparency, we believe that CRU should have ensured that the data they did not own, but on which their publications relied, was archived in a more timely way.

On the allegations that there was subversion of the peer review or editorial process we find no evidence to substantiate this in the three instances examined in detail. On the basis of the independent work we commissioned (see Appendix 5) on the nature of peer review, we conclude that it is not uncommon for strongly opposed and robustly expressed positions to be taken up in heavily contested areas of science. We take the view that such behaviour does not in general threaten the integrity of peer review or publication.

On the allegations that in two specific cases there had been a misuse by CRU scientists of the IPCC process, in presenting AR4 to the public and policy makers, we find that the allegations cannot be upheld. In addition to taking evidence from them and checking the relevant records of the IPCC process, we have consulted the relevant IPCC review Editors. Both the CRU scientists were part of large groups of scientists taking joint responsibility for the relevant IPCC Working Group texts, and were not in a position to determine individually the final wording and content.

So in line with the other three reports, the Muir Russell inquiry’s main findings are that 1) The CRU scientists are honest researchers 2) The various allegations of data manipulation and/or fraud are entirely baseless 3) The HadCRU temp record has not been tampered with, and that any competent researcher could reproduce the CRU’s results. Essentially this is another through vindication of the work undertaken by Jones and the CRU.

However, despite entirely clearing Jones and the CRU of the major accusations leveled at them by bloggers and journalists over the past nine months, it did make some criticisms of the way the CRU and UEA had acted with regards to complying with FoI requests, reporting that

But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science.

and that

On the allegation that CRU does not appear to have acted in a way consistent with the spirit and intent of the FoIA or EIR, we find that there was unhelpfulness in responding to requests and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them. University senior management should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for
FoIA and EIR compliance.

It must be remembered when contemplating what the findings of the report mean, that the allegations against Jones and the CRU which had been widely disseminated across both the Internet and print media, were that they had falsified data to make their results concur with a preconceived position, that they had corrupted the peer review process preventing scientists with alternative views from having their work published in prestigious journals, that they had infiltrated and distorted the IPCC so that the IPCC’s major reports reflected their alarmist position (based on their falsified data) and that the CRU email leak was a smoking gun which laid bare the fraudulent work of these dishonest scientists. The Muir Russell report’s findings on all of these charges are that these claims are entirely baseless. That is (or ought to be) the story here.

The international ‘scandal’ surrounding the CRU leak was most certainly not based around the notion that honest, credible scientists who otherwise worked within best practices were based at an institution which didn’t deal entirely correctly with freedom of information requests made by bloggers they didn’t like (due to a history of the bloggers making inaccurate claims about their work). The headlines were based around the notion that the scandal cast doubt upon whether the planet was in fact warming as a result of human activity, not around how senior management at a university dealt with FoI requests.

As Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst states with regard to the scandal and the subsequent inquiries

The report by Sir Muir Russell et al confirms what everybody who has worked with Phil Jones and Keith Briffa knew all along – they are honest, hard-working scientists whose reputations have been unjustifiably smeared by allegations of unscrupulous behaviour. These allegations are soundly rejected by the report. If there is a scandal to be reported at all, it is this: the media stoked a controversy without properly investigating the issues, choosing to inflate trivialities to the level of an international scandal, without regard for the facts or individuals affected. This was a shameful chapter in the history of news reporting, and a lesson for those who are concerned about fair and honest communication with the public.

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